Hill neighbors said they hope to see a broken connection repaired between their neighborhood and the rest of the city, while also providing more jobs.
The former Episcopal Church of the Ascension building on the corner of Howard and Lamberton Avenues, which closed in 2011, may hold part of the answer.
That was the upshot at a meeting held at the church Wednesday night, neighbors voiced the current challenges facing the neighborhood and where they see the community going in five years.
The purpose of the meeting, Bishop Suffragan Laura Ahrens from the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut said, was not to figure out how specifically to utilize the space, but rather to discuss the broader wants and needs of the neighborhood, to see if the church’s plans for the building could fit in to a solution. The ideas gathered will be taken back to the diocese for review.
“The sensible thing to do would be to put up a ‘for sale’ sign,” said Audrey Scanlan, canon for Mission Collaboration and Congregational Life and co-leader of the meeting. Instead, a decision was made first to listen to and converse with the neighbors.
The church opened in 1857, according to Ahrens. Due to a dwindling congregation, the church closed in 2011, and was later used by several other organizations. At one point the parish house next door housed religious interns. Ahrens said both buildings are currently unused.
Ahrens asked the nearly 50 attendees: “What are the blessings, challenges and growing trends in the neighborhood?” and “Where do you see hope?”
Neighbors pointed out several positive aspects of the Hill, like its diverse community, proximity to public transportation and accessibility to social service agencies and health clinics.
Neighbors also said that a large percentage of people living in the Hill are young adults, roughly 18 to 20 years of age, while the neighborhood lacks full-time job opportunities and training facilities to teach trades.
Crime emerged as a concern, as well.
The main problem neighbors cited, however, is the isolated relationships felt between neighbors and with the rest of city. It’s hard to find friendly neighbors or know the police officers patrolling the area, they said, adding that homeownership has declined.
Neighbors said they’ve seen more immigrant and Latino families moving into the area throughout the years, and notice ethnic food stores on the rise. More can be done to improve communication and connection to the changing surroundings, several neighbors said.
Paul Larrivee of City Point said he hopes to see major efforts in developing future job opportunities and recreation where kids could play, as well as more services for seniors, which he said is the most under-served population in the Hill.
In the next few years, with or without a renovated church, Pastor Ruth Drews (pictured) from the Resurrection Lutheran Church said, she would like to see no more housing in the Hill destroyed for other projects.
Paula Pendelton suggested the church could be used for a job recruiting center or a thrift shop, with the parish hall used for seniors.
“Sustainability is key,” she said.
There’s also a possibility of the church being used by another congregation.
Before the church can be utilized for anything, it must undergo significant upgrades and fixes. The building has no heat. It also has poor electricity. The rood must be replaced.
Scanlan said the next step is to take all the neighborhood feedback for review. An open house will be held on Sept. 7 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the church for the public and entrepreneurs who may be interested in developing the space.
By December, she said, the diocese should have a better idea of future plans.